Thousands of illicit online pharmacies shut down in Operation Pangea VII


The largest-ever global operation targeting fake medicines and the seventh in a series

Almost 200 enforcement agencies across 111 countries have taken part in Operation Pangea VII targeting criminal networks behind the sale of fake medicines through illegal online pharmacies. The operation led to 237 arrests worldwide and the seizure of nearly US$36m of potentially dangerous medicines.

The operation, which took place from 13–20 May, was coordinated by Interpol, with the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (WGEO), the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI) and Europol, with support from the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and private sector companies including G2 Web Services, LegitScript, MasterCard, Microsoft, PayPal and Visa.

The activity resulted in the launch of 1,235 investigations, the removal of more than 19,000 adverts for illicit pharmaceuticals across social media platforms and more than 10,600 websites shut down.

In addition to interventions on the ground, which included the identification and dismantlement of three illicit laboratories in Colombia, the operation also targeted the main areas exploited by organised crime in the illegal online medicine trade: rogue domain name registrars, electronic payment systems and delivery services.

As well as raids at addresses linked to the illegal pharmaceutical websites, some 543,000 packages were inspected by customs and regulatory authorities, of which nearly 20,000 were seized during the international week of action.

The operation led to 237 arrests worldwide and the seizure of nearly US$36m of potentially dangerous medicines

Among the 9.4 million fake and illicit medicines seized during the operation were slimming pills, cancer medication, erectile dysfunction pills, cough and cold medication, anti-malarial, cholesterol medication and nutritional products.

The UK\'s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) seized £8.6m of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines, including hauls of potentially harmful slimming pills and controlled drugs such as diazepam and anabolic steroids.

The MHRA, with assistance from Home Office Border Force and local police, seized 3.6 million doses of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines, made five arrests and shut 1,891 websites.

The most commonly seized drugs were: erectile dysfunction medicines (1.2 million doses), slimming products (383,000) and often misused drugs such as sleeping pills, tranquillisers and antidepressants (330,996 doses). The majority of packages seized originated from India and China, with 72% and 11% of seizures originating from these countries respectively.

In the US, Operation Pangea VII\'s coordinated efforts at mail facilities resulted in the detention or seizure of 19,618 packages containing medicines purportedly from Australia, the UK, New Zealand and Canada. These packages actually contained unapproved or suspected counterfeit drugs from other countries, such as India, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Mexico, Laos, Malaysia, as well as Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

The US FDA and the Customs and Border Protection inspected packages at mail facilities in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, and detained or seized 583 packages. Preliminary findings show that certain drug products from abroad, such as insulin, estrogen, bimatoprost, human chorionic gonadotropin, tramadol, tadalafil and sildenafil citrate were on their way to US consumers.

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The FDA also notified Internet service providers, domain name registrars and related organisations that 1,975 websites were selling products in violation of US law.